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Standoff at Caledonia

McGuinty comes under fire in legislature as natives resist predawn OPP raid

Karen Howlett, with reports from Gloria Galloway and Canadian Press
The Globe and Mail
Friday, April 21, 2006

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

TORONTO -- The worst confrontation between Ontario police and natives since an aboriginal protester was shot dead a decade ago has landed on the doorstep of Premier Dalton McGuinty, just one day after he pledged a peaceful resolution.

A police raid intended to remove a score of occupiers from a disputed tract of land in Southwestern Ontario yesterday morning ended with more than 200 people from the Six Nations reserve regaining control amid scenes of burning tires, overturned vehicles and shaken police officers.

The ghost of the Ipperwash tragedy came back to haunt the government as Mr. McGuinty was grilled during Question Period over what role, if any, his cabinet played in the police raid and why he had not resolved a dispute that has been simmering for more than a year.

"Yesterday you promised, as you should, that your government would make every effort to find a peaceful resolution to this," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said in the legislature.

"Now, when we have reports of massive tire fires, pepper spray, taser-gun use, helicopters and fighting, can you tell us, after a year of inaction by your government, what are your government's plans to carry on with those talks that you say have been going on for some time?"

Mr. McGuinty said Wednesday afternoon that he would take all the time needed to peacefully resolve the long-standing protest over land adjoining a Six Nations reserve in Caledonia, south of Hamilton. But, by yesterday, an occupation now in its 52nd day in the quiet community had escalated into an angry confrontation after police staged a predawn raid.

Mr. McGuinty agreed that the move by the Ontario Provincial Police came remarkably close upon the heels of discussions over the past five weeks aimed at settling the dispute.

"I want to be perfectly clear in this regard, this police action comes completely independent of me, my office or my government," he said.

The raid immediately invoked comparisons to the tragedy at Ipperwash Provincial Park 11 years ago, when Dudley George was killed by a police sniper. A public inquiry is examining that incident, including the question of what role politicians played in the OPP decision to march on the unarmed native protesters occupying the Ipperwash campground.

Equipped since March 28 with a court order to clear the property, the OPP had been given a free hand in deciding whether -- and when -- to evict the protesters, both the Premier and senior OPP officers said.

Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter echoed the Premier's comments, adding that he received no advance warning. He said he learned of the raid roughly an hour after it was under way.

"I can say unequivocally that the OPP were never ordered to do anything," Mr. Kwinter said in the legislature. He said the OPP operate as an independent police force. "It is paramount there be no political interference with police services."

OPP officers swooped down on the Douglas Creek housing development at 4:30 yesterday morning and removed 16 protesters occupying the land. The raid came just hours after a meeting among negotiators representing the government and Six Nations members broke up shortly after midnight.

Mr. Tory asked the Premier why he did nothing about the matter when government officials were aware of it for more than a year.

Mr. McGuinty responded that the individuals involved in the dispute regard his government as secondary players. "They insist on being dealt with as a nation," he said. "They want to deal with the government of Canada on a nation-to-nation basis."

Gilles Bisson, the New Democrats' aboriginal affairs critic, said the raid has inflamed the situation and made it much more difficult for negotiators to reach a settlement.

"He has failed the test of leadership and let a dispute boil over into a crisis," he said.

Mr. McGuinty said all stakeholders, including federal and provincial officials, will meet again today with protesters. Mr. Tory urged both the federal and provincial governments to work harder to resolve the matter.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government was watching the situation in Caledonia carefully following calls by Mr. McGuinty for Ottawa to become more involved.

"This is a matter before the courts and the removal today was an action of the provincial authorities in Ontario," Mr. Harper told reporters after a noon-hour speech in Montreal.

Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has so far called the Caledonia situation a provincial matter.

"Like all Canadians, I have watched and been concerned and will continue to monitor the situation," he said during a media teleconference yesterday.

"We've had representatives involved in discussions up to this point and we'll continue to watch the situation as it unfolds."

Aboriginal bodies outside Ontario expressed vocal support for the protesters in Caledonia yesterday.

A statement from Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine described the situation in Caledonia as "worrisome" and called on the federal government to intervene "because any issues relating to First Nations lands are issues between First Nations and the federal government."

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